We visited the little charming French town of Chamonix in the late summer of 2019, as part of our Tour du Mont Blanc hike. We were originally planning to spend just the evening before the hike there, as well as a single day afterwards. However, circumstances led us to stay for a couple of extra days. We are glad that we did because it turns out Chamonix was a surprisingly pleasant area to explore.
When most people think about summer in France, the French Riviera springs to mind. Cannes, Nice or St. Tropez are extremely popular European holiday destinations, and for a good reason. We have ourselves visited the Cote d’Azur on several occasions, and Nick even lived there for a while. It really is lovely, and we don’t blame people for favouring the coast. That’s why we’ve written a full blog post about how best to enjoy a fantastic day trip to the Principality of Monaco.
However, recently, we have become aware of just how lovely the Alps are in the summer! Don’t just think about the coast, think about the mountains too. There are a ton of things to see and do up there in the Alps, and the natural landscape is breathtaking. Many people have gone skiing in the Alps during winter, but you really should think about the summer season too.
Don’t believe us? Check out the travel video we shot during our visit!
If that wasn’t enough to convince you, we hope the rest of this post will do the trick. It will go through the best things to see and do in Chamonix, as well as give you all our personal tips and tricks for your own visit. It’s as close to a complete guide as you can realistically get, without creating a full-blown guidebook. You may need to research specific activities in more detail, but it should provide a good foundation for you to start planning your own epic visit!
Why exactly Chamonix? Because it’s the best place to base yourself during your adventures around the whole Mont Blanc massif. It is a cosy town located right at the foot of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, and it provides unparalleled access to the amazing Alps.
Italy and Switzerland border up to the mountains here as well, but Chamonix is best positioned, most developed and has the most exciting things to see and do. You can easily visit the other countries as well on day trips from there, so don’t think you are missing out on anything. We know from personal experience, because we hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc, leading us on foot around the entire mountain range.
This is what we came to Chamonix for. We were looking to hike the epic Tour du Mont Blanc route, around the entire Mont Blanc massif. And we did. It was every bit as awesome as we had hoped for, but it was tougher than expected. We are working on a blog post about the trip, so if you are considering embarking on the same endeavour, stay tuned for that!
You don’t have to hike 150 kilometres and conquer 10,000 metres of elevation gain if you want to hike in the Alps around Chamonix though. There are other options, including plenty of day hikes. Keep on reading this post, and after going over the cable car choices, we will throw in a few of the best ones.
Chamonix is considered one of the best places in the world for trail runners. There really are countless trails to hit, and the stunning backdrop of the Alps is sure to keep motivation sky-high. During our visit, we randomly stumbled upon the start of the annual Tor des Géants run. It’s not exactly in Chamonix, but in Courmayeur on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. It’s just 30 minutes by car, though, and the mountain scenery is the same. The runners here have to overcome 330 kilometres of crazy tough terrain, and it’s really awe-inspiring how they can do that. It made us feel quite bad about struggling on our own teeny-tiny hike and helped us suck up some of the pain.
Chamonix is a perfect place for mountain biking. You can bring your own or rent one from the many shops in town. There are a ton of trails, including lots of specific downhill ones around the cable cars. Check out the recommended trails from the official Chamonix website right here.
We tried paragliding for the first time while in Chamonix, and it was by far our favourite experience – not just during our time in Chamonix, but of the whole year! We took off from 3,700 meters near Aiguille du Midi, and we even had to traverse a small glacier to get to the take-off area. We had a mountain guide with us, wore crampons and were roped up. It was SUPER exciting. We then had to run down a steep slope on the glacier, in knee-high snow, and took off from a cliff with a 1,000-meter vertical drop. Somehow it felt completely undramatic. We are of course writing a full post about this insane experience, which you can soon read right here on the blog!
The Aiguille du Midi take-off point is very weather dependent and quite expensive, so it’s the least popular choice. Most paragliders take off from Plan du Aiguille du Midi further down the same cable car, or from Plan Praz and Brevent on the opposite side of the valley. Whichever one you choose, we are sure it will be a legendary experience. Later in this post, we will talk a bit more about those cable cars, and what other opportunities they unlock.
Unsurprisingly, where there are mountains, there’s climbing. In Chamonix Valley, there’s something for all levels, including indoor walls, bouldering, rock and ice climbing as well as Via Ferrata. If you are into any of these things, you’ll probably know how best to proceed. There are lots of guides and instructors available in Chamonix, but during peak season, you should book well in advance.
You could climb Mont Blanc. Seriously, why not? Thousands of people do it each year. It is accessible, only takes a couple of days, and it must feel like one hell of an achievement to stand on the summit of the mightiest mountain in Europe.
You can also learn mountaineering through courses with professional mountain guides. Of course, if you already have the experience, then that’s not an issue for you. The accessibility around Chamonix is really good, especially because you can take one of the many cable cars up and find yourself in the mountains in no time.
We saw loads of mountaineers preparing at campsites around Mont Blanc, and it’s really something we would love to partake in ourselves. It will happen sooner or later!
You don’t have to be particularly active to enjoy Chamonix. There are plenty of options for those of you wanting to live life at a more leisurely pace! Most of them include a cable car ride, and this is, of course, something you can take advantage of if you are going hiking, climbing or mountain biking as well. Read this section even if you are an adventurous soul because it will give valuable info about cable cars and how best to utilise those!
Naturally, you can also just be transported up, enjoy the view, and get carried back down again!
Chamonix Mont Blanc MultiPass
Chamonix Valley is filled with ski lifts, cable cars, gondolas, chair lifts and even trams. Whatever you choose to call them, they get the same job done: Carrying your a** from the valley up into the mountain. Some people believe cable cars ruin the look of the alpine landscape, and of course, that is somewhat true. You just can’t argue with how convenient they are. Try overcoming several thousand meters of elevation gain and see how your legs feel. That’s not something everyone would enjoy. Especially if you have still got more hiking to do!
In any case, we highly recommend you get the Mont Blanc MultiPass. It is essentially a day ticket to all the cable cars and trams that the area has to offer, and as soon as you are boarding more than just a single one, it will be worth it. You will save A LOT of money, especially if you purchase a MultiPass for several days. The nice thing about it is that it doesn’t even have to be consecutive days! You can purchase a 3-day MultiPass, and state you want it to be valid Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Come Friday, you can ask for an extra day’s extension and only pay the difference. We did exactly that and were so impressed about that possibility. It definitely wasn’t a given! When we first checked the prices of cable cars, they seemed outrageously expensive, but things quickly got more affordable when we started looking into the MultiPass.
The MultiPass can be bought from the huge ticket office near the Aiguille du Midi cable car, and you can find current prices and eligibility right here.
Cable Cars From Chamonix
Below we go through the main cable cars for you to consider during your visit. These are the most popular ones and will be the best options for most people. They open up possibilities for the full range of activities mentioned above, and they allow more leisurely travellers to enjoy easy-access to amazing mountain views.
Plan de l'Aiguille + Aiguille du Midi
If you only have time to ride one cable car, this is the one to take. It’s the biggest and the baddest of them all. Mostly referred to as just the Aiguille du Midi cable car, it is actually two separate gondolas.
The first one goes from Chamonix to Plan de l’Aiguille at 2,310 metres. Here you can jump out to go on a hike, or have lunch at the small restaurant enjoying a panoramic view of the Bossons Glacier and Chamonix Valley. However, we suggest you save that for the way down and instead move on to the next gondola, taking you all the way to Aiguille du Midi at 3,777 meters.
Here you will emerge out into the thin mountain air, and marvel at the glorious sight of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps in all their glory. To get even higher up, almost to the top of the world, board a small elevator carrying you to 3,842 meters.
The whole facility is carved into the rock and is quite impressive from an engineering standpoint. What is even more impressive though, is the panoramic view of Mont Blanc, the surrounding glaciers, countless +3500 meter peaks and Chamonix Valley below. For many people, this will surely be the best view of their lives.
Important tricks to having the best experience at Aiguille du Midi
Most importantly, time your visit to Aiguille du Midi on a day with beautiful weather. Check the weather forecast and try to plan around it. There’s no reason to go to the top if it’s enclosed by clouds. You won’t see a thing. Unfortunately, the weather is highly unpredictable in the mountains, so this won’t be as easy as it sounds. Do your best and cross your fingers.
Secondly, and almost equally important, get there as soon as they open! Aiguille du Midi is a hugely popular tourist attraction, and significant queues will form every day. To get around that annoying problem, just be an early bird. Opening times vary per season, so make sure to check out the official website here before your visit It will also display current prices. Remember, Aiguille du Midi is included in the MultiPass.
Finally, make sure to go directly to the next gondola when you arrive at Plan de l’Aiguille. You want to reach the top without the crowds – then when it’s time to go back down again, you’ll beat the crowds there as well. You can then have lunch, or a beer, at the little restaurant at Plan de l’Aiguille knowing that you’ve had a better experience than everyone else. No queues, no pushing, no stress. We’re sure you like the sound of that.
Panoramic Mont Blanc Gondola
From the top of Aiguille du Midi, you can pay an extra 30 EUR to jump on an additional gondola taking you directly over the Glacier du Géant to Pointe Helbronner in Italy. That’s right – it involves a border crossing! At Pointe Helbronner, you can either go back the way you came or continue onwards on the Monte Bianco Skyway taking you down into Courmayeur on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. This is definitely the scenic way to travel between Chamonix and Courmayeur – as the alternative is a tunnel straight through the mountain. Note that the entire journey will cost you quite a bit, as it involves paying for one-way tickets for three different cable cars. We can imagine it would be an epic way to visit Courmayeur on a day trip though, taking the tunnel back to Chamonix in the evening. Proper Italian food is worth crossing a mountain for, don’t you agree?
Plan Praz + Brevent
From Chamonix, you can take a small cable car to Plan Praz at 2,000 meters. You can stick around there, or take another gondola further up to Brevent at 2,525 meters. Both places offer fantastic close-up views of Mont Blanc, located just opposite the valley
Both Plan Praz and Brevent are very popular places to paraglide from as well, and we often saw 20-30 canopies in the air at a time. It is quite an impressive sight. The conditions here are often optimal for flying, so if you want to book a tandem flight, it’s a relatively safe bet.
Montenvers Mer de Glace
You won’t actually be using a cable car to get to Montenvers – instead, you will board a train driving on a cool rack railway. It departs from central Chamonix and takes you to 1,913 meters at the edge of the Mer de Glace Glacier. “Mer de Glace” means Sea of Ice in French and is the biggest glacier in France. It’s 7 km long and 200 meters deep. If you go to visit it, however, you will immediately realise that it used to be MUCH bigger. Check out the picture below, with a sign indicating where the ice was in back in the year 1990.
Once there, you can also walk down a long stairwell to reach an artificial ice cave. It’s dug out every year to allow visitors to explore the blue ice up close. It’s definitely worth the effort, in our opinion.
Cable Cars Just Outside Chamonix
There are a few more chair lifts to consider, especially if you have more time in Chamonix. These are located just a short bus ride from Chamonix, but can still offer access to interesting hikes, epic views or exciting mountain bike routes.
Closed for maintenance during 2019, we couldn’t take this gondola. It was a shame because it would have helped us during our Tour du Mont Blanc hike. It actually messed around with our plans quite significantly. However, conveniently for you, it will be open in time for your visit! You should use it to go visit Lac Blanc in particular, but more about that later.
Glacier des Bossons
This is your chance to get up and close with the mighty Bossons Glacier. We didn’t actually know about this chairlift when we visited but found out about it when we were doing further research to this blog post. What a shame, it looks really awesome.
Les Houches (Bellevue + Prarion)
We used the gondola from the little village of Les Houches to Bellevue, to cheat a bit on our Tour du Mont Blanc hike. There is also a lift taking you to Prarion where even more hikes and mountain bike routes await.
Les Grands Montets (Plan Joran)
This one starts from Argentière. Unfortunately, the longest cable car to the Grands Montets remains closed for the foreseeable future after a fire in 2018 (no one was hurt, don’t worry). However, you can still take the Plan Joran gondola to 1,923 meters.
Le Tour (Charamillon + Les Autannes)
This one leads you almost all the way into Switzerland – to Col de Balme, a mountain pass at 2,186 meters. There’s a great sunny spot at the top, with views of the entire Chamonix Valley, including Mont Blanc. We climbed to Col de Balme on our own two feet, from the small Swiss village of Champex. Up there, we basked in the sun, enjoying a few celebratory beers and a distinctively French lunch. The views were epic.
We seriously contemplated ending our Tour du Mont Blanc hike right here, by taking the chair lift down to Le Tour and catching a bus to Chamonix. We didn’t end up doing that exactly, but you could make the trip in reverse: Taking a bus from Chamonix to Le Tour and jump on the chair lift up to Col de Balme. If you feel up for it, you can walk down or even ride your mountain bike.
Selected day hikes
You can find a ton of information online about the various day hikes available in the mountains near Chamonix – however, we wanted to highlight a few to get you started. Here are three of the best!
Grand Balcon Nord
This trail goes from Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers on the northern side of Chamonix Valley. Instead of taking the tram from Chamonix, why not hike there? It’s a relatively easy trail, which only takes a couple of hours. You can walk in either direction, but coming from Plan de l’Aiguille, you will be hiking slightly downhill for the full duration. It also means you’ll arrive at Montenvers having the glacier appear directly in front of you. You can then explore the ice cave and the surrounding area, before taking the tram back down to Chamonix.
The easiest way to see Lac Blanc is to hike from the Flegere cable car. We, unfortunately, missed out on this hike because Le Flegere was closed for business during the summer of 2019. For your next adventure, it will be back online, and so you have easy access to Lac Blanc. It’s a beautiful alpine lake with a stunning mountain backdrop. People who know say this was one of the highlights of their trip.
Aiguillette des Posettes
This trail runs along the famous Balcon Sud of Chamonix Valley. It’s basically a hike on the southern ridge, overlooking Chamonix and Argentiere, while also having a perfect view of Mont Blanc. It’s part of the Tour du Mont Blanc route, so you get a good taste of one of the most beautiful days on that itinerary.
You can take the bus from Chamonix to Le Tour, and jump on the cable car up to Col de Balme. From here you can walk all the way to Le Flegere and take the cable car down to Chamonix. Just follow the signs for “Aiguilette des Posettes”. A perfect hiking day in the mountains await.
What to do in Chamonix after dark?
The chair lifts stop running quite early – well before dusk actually. This is a bit of a shame, as even from deep down the valley you can tell how beautiful Mont Blanc looks in the orange glow of the sunset. What a joy it would be to see that from Aiguille du Midi. Anyway, now that’s impossible, what to do in Chamonix when the mountains are “closed for business”?
Restaurants & Bars
There are plenty of bars and eateries to choose from in Chamonix, and this is one of the things which makes the town really convenient for tourists. Seriously, don’t worry about finding a place to eat and drink. You will be spoiled for choice. There’s even a McDonalds – don’t worry, we won’t judge.
We are always travelling, often to remote locations, so it’s quite hard for us to find time to go to the movies. We were thrilled that Chamonix had a cosy little cinema, especially because the new Tarantino movie “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” had just premiered.
In our home country, movies are ALWAYS shown in their original language, with Danish subtitles. That’s not so much the case in France. Now, we didn’t really want to watch Leonardo di Caprio and Brad Pitt dubbed in French. Luckily, this cinema does show movies in their original language about half the time. Make sure to look for screenings labelled something like VO, VOST, or VOSTF. If it doesn’t have a series of capitalised letters looking like this, it will be in French for sure.
Interestingly, they don’t open the doors to the cinema (as in you have to wait outside, in the street) until the advertised time for the movie. Also, they don’t serve much in the way of refreshments, but still, the cinema was cosy and comfy and we enjoyed our visit.
We didn’t plan to do any shopping, but unfortunately, our sleeping mat had just exploded a few days earlier. Seriously. In the middle of the night, our Therm-a-Rest made a series of extremely loud sounds resembling gunshots and started bubbling up like a football. We HAD to find a new one, or we wouldn’t be able to complete our hike. Luckily, there are plenty of shops in Chamonix selling everything from mountaineering gear to designer clothing, souvenirs, etc.
How to get there
So you have decided to visit Chamonix? That’s great! Now, let focus on getting you there.
Chamonix is located nearby Geneva. This would be the best place to fly to, and that’s exactly what we did. The easiest way to get from Geneva Airport to Chamonix is by a direct bus connection. The most popular choices seem to be either AlpyBus or OuiBus.
We went with the latter, simply because they had a late departure close to our flight. Everything went smooth, the bus was modern and spacious, and the transfer was quick and relatively inexpensive. We don’t hesitate about recommending them. However, AlpyBus has received fine reviews as well.
The trip will take you about 1.5 hours.
Alternatively, you could fly to Lyon a bit further away in the same direction, or to Milan on the Italian side. From these places, FlixBus is your best bet. We noticed that this company doesn’t have the best reviews, but we rode with them for 7 hours, all the way from Krakow to Budapest, and we had a great experience.
Where to stay
When it comes to accommodation, there are literally hundreds of possibilities in Chamonix. Just use your favourite hotel booking site, and you will easily find a highly rated place. Whether it fits your budget is another question. Chamonix isn’t particularly cheap, so we decided to camp for the majority of our days. We did spend 2 nights at the budget-friendly La Chaumiere Mountain Lodge, about a 15-minute walk from the city centre. It wasn’t fancy or anything, but it was nice to have a proper bed to fall asleep in and a roof over our heads! The staff were also extremely helpful in keeping our luggage, free of charge, for almost 2 weeks!
You don’t have to stay within Chamonix itself. There are also the neighbouring towns to consider, all connected by a frequent bus service. More about that in the next section.
Les Houches marks the beginning of the epic Tour du Mont Blanc trail. It’s also a popular starting point for climbers attempting to summit Mont Blanc, taking the Bellevue cable car. Easy access to that chair lift is a drawing point for this little town, which is located just 8 kilometres (or 10 minutes by bus) south of Chamonix. Yet, even though you are still close, crowds will be smaller.
It’s located just 8 km north of Chamonix but it’s actually a sizable town. There are several bars and restaurants, which all seemed quite lively. It appears to be a popular choice for mountaineers – at least we saw a lot of them here when we pitched our tent at Camping Glacier d’Argentière. The chair lift Plan Joran is situated in Argentière, and of course, the impressive Argentière Glacier is visible from most of town.
Vallorcine + Le Tour
Vallorcine and Le Tour are both located close to the Swiss border, in the northern end of Chamonix Valley. Here you’ll be a little further from Chamonix, which also means you will be further away from all the hustle and bustle. Perfect for nature-lovers who do not plan to venture into town much. The bus does go all the way out here, but it will take about 30 minutes. If you choose Vallorcine or Le Tour, you will be in a good position to get to Col de Balme and Switzerland.
How to get around Chamonix Valley
Getting around Chamonix Valley turned out to be surprisingly easy. We didn’t really expect so, because it was quite hard to find information online beforehand. When we were there, everything quickly fell into place – the schedule was easy to find, the bus drove frequently, and it was relatively inexpensive. There’s a train service as well, but it wasn’t nearly as frequent as the bus, so we had no reason to use it.
You should be able to find the bus schedule via this link.
If you are out and about late, there’s also a night bus service running. During our visit in September, we would have to call and prebook it. However, in peak season it drives regularly each night.
Finally, there is a small electric bus running every 10-15 minutes inside Chamonix city centre. It’s called the Mulet, and it’s free of charge! The town isn’t particularly large, so everything is within walking distance, but it may come in handy for some people.
A money-saving tip for transportation in Chamonix Valley
Something we wish we had known about before visiting, is the so-called Carte d’Hôte. It’s basically a guest card that your accommodation should provide you with, allowing for free travel throughout Chamonix Valley. This is offered to encourage the use of public transportation, and it’s a no-brainer when it comes to saving money. Unfortunately, our accommodation forgot to mention this to us, so we had to pay for the bus. It was only a couple of Euros per trip, but still a shame. Remember to ask your hotel for this card if they don’t mention it. It’s perfectly okay for you to do so!
You can also buy the card from the tourist information office. It will cost you 10 Euros but lasts a full week!
When to visit
Obviously, you can visit Chamonix in the winter to go skiing. However, this post is about Chamonix as a summer destination. It isn’t, as we initially thought, an all-year-round destination. The cable cars are only open in certain months, and outside of the peak season, you will struggle with transportation as well. We visited for two weeks between early and mid-September, and we wouldn’t recommend arriving any later than this. On our final day (15th of September) the majority of the cable cars stopped for the summer, except only Aiguille du Midi. Several campsites that we stayed at closed for the season on (or even before) this date as well. The bus starts running more rarely from the 1st of September, and it gets even worse on the 1st of October. Even early in September, you’ll find many restaurants are closed although they may state on Google and TripAdvisor that they are open. This might not be the case in Chamonix itself, but as soon as you get to the smaller towns further out, you’ll start noticing these things. The later into September you get, the worse it will be.
Then there is the question of the weather. We did experience a bit of snow during our hike in early September, and one morning, our tent was frozen on the inside. There was condensation on the fabric, from our body heat presumably, but in the morning it had frozen solid. We can only imagine how cold it may get a month later, in early October. It’s worth noting that other days were absolutely amazing, with summer temperatures in the high 20s. Weather during the shoulder season is hard to predict, but it will definitely only be more unpredictable the later it gets.
That being said, the later you go, the fewer crowds you will meet. Chamonix can be extremely busy during the summer, but coming earlier or later in the year will help significantly with that. In the end, it all comes down to your schedule. July and August will be the busiest, but don’t expect all services to be running at full steam outside of early June to mid-September.
That’s it. Good job if you managed to read through the entire guide. We really hope that it will help you plan an epic trip of your own. Chamonix is a fantastic place and we are sure you’ll enjoy your time there. The Alps have a special place in our hearts, and we will definitely be back ourselves in the future. If we have forgotten anything, or if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out in the comments below. We are also responsive on all our social media channels, where we share daily travel inspiration as well as tips and tricks.
Until next time, safe travels!